Unforced Variations: July 2012

Have at it.

561 comments on this post.
  1. David B. Benson:

    Craig Nazor @234 & Susan Anderson @243 — The planners use the data they have togeether with the regulations the operation is supposed to honor in order to obtain an economical solution. I suppose the three of us agree that pipeline operators are under-regulated by the Department of Transportation [not the sharpest bunch in the federal government IMO]. As always, write letters (e-mails) to your congressional delgates as well as the other things which help to cause regulations to be enforced and strengthened by new laws.

    As it stands, the cost in energy to pump (semi-)liquids and gases through pipelines is much less than the cost for transport by rail. For both modes one supposes there is some form of insurance available and possibly even required by law. I don’t know whether or not pipe leaks are more or less common than train accidents and I don’t know whether one or the other has larger (negative) impacts, suitably averaged over some space and time.

  2. dbostrom:

    UK sinking under heavy rain, budget cuts to flood protection plans intended to deal with predicted increases in precipitation.

    Flood defences unbuilt due to cuts

    Caroline Spelman’s deep cuts to flood defences begin to look foolish

    Tories claim they’re down w/climate science but ignoring planners is perhaps a hint on their sincerity. But perhaps Tories are closet Keynesians? Damage is rapidly approaching total “savings” of flood protection cuts; shoveling muck out of living rooms and repairing damage will be a form of stimulus.

    Interesting how quickly a little “adaptation” will elicit open acknowledgement of the folly of pretending energy isn’t conserved.

  3. Patrick 027:

    A quick thing about CH4 and CO2 GWP: (as described in the context of externality taxes) you wouldn’t necessarily want to base the tax only on GWP anyway. If it were up to me I’d add an ocean acidification tax. CH4 emitted ‘in place of CO2’ (which would then oxidize to CO2 eventually) would have no such tax, whereas CH4 emission that adds CO2 to the atmosphere would have the acidification tax; interestingly it might have a discount due to it’s acidifying effect being delayed (ie if we used 100 year ‘Ocean Acidification Potential’ (which would have to be time-averaged effect rather than time-integrated because CO2 is the acid, it doesn’t cause acid to continually accumulate (unless anthropogenic geoengineering by SO2 emission is a feedback), a CH4 emission would only have ~ 90 % of the effect as CO2 (PS I’m going on a molar basis rather than a weight basis). – Not that such a 100-year ‘OAP’ would make any sense (?)

  4. Patrick 027:

    a CH4 emission would only have ~ 90 % of the effect as CO2” – um, wait a minute… (as given mole of inorganic C spreads through the ocean, the pH effect would get less concentrated and dissolution of carbonate minerals would reduce the acification … etc.)

  5. Jim Larsen:

    243 Susan a said, ” My idea is that if the rails were constructed, we would have useful infrastructure,”

    I don’t know how correct this guy is, but he’s (they’re?) proposing building a railroad from Alaska’s north slope to Ft McMoney (Ft McMurray). It would carry natural gas from Alaska to Canada and bitumen back. Mixing the bitumen with product from the north slope would turn it into synthetic crude, which would then be shipped through the Alaskan pipeline. He says that (from memory so check the link for “real” numbers)

    1. cost per barrel for bitumen transportation would drop by more than half, with the natural gas travelling “free” via the cars going back to Canada.

    2. The natural gas would be essentially free, as it is currently just pumped back into the ground.

    3. With an extension, the railroad could also provide a quick route to Asia, especially if a Chunnel were built to Russia.

    4. The railroad would provide a way to extract Alaska’s natural resources, increase tourism, and provide goods to Alaskans.


  6. Jim Larsen:

    To whomever was asking about grain-fed beef and methane: Feeding cattle corn seriously decreases the amount of methane they belch, as corn is digestible without rumination. Forcing a ruminant to not ruminate gives them constant acid indigestion (or maybe it’s specifically corn). Cows can froth up so bad they need to have hoses jammed down their throats to get them going again. Is this cruel food?

    “Grain-finished beef produced 38 percent less methane, the researchers found, though other studies have reported as much as 70 percent less.”

    Here’s some folks who want to solve the gas problem:

    “The company, called BG (Bovine Gas), attaches the “proprietary gas capture technology” onto the rear end of cattle. A tube funnels the gas into a small tank, similar in appearance to the propane tanks used for gas grills. The BG tank is on wheels, allowing the cattle to graze freely, albeit more slowly than usual. To increase gas production, BG mixes Indian food into the standard corn feed for the livestock. The company claims 45% higher gas production thanks to the addition of spicy lamb vindaloo, garlic naan, and saag…The company plans to introduce home units in 2012, allowing homeowners to capture gas from house pets.”

    It seems tenuous to me because cows burp more than they fart. And adding spicy on top of acid indigestion can’t be humane.

    “About 98 per cent of the methane from a cow is emitted through its mouth. (source: Kebreab, Journal of Animal Science. ”

    So we need cow space-helmets!

    242 Patrick, humans are built to like what they’ve been eating recently. It takes about 3 months to teach yourself to like a new food that you initially seriously dislike. I’ve found that starting with super-small serving sizes (maybe 1/8 of a bite) works best for me. Veggies are often easier to handle raw. If they’re better for you cooked, perhaps start cooking them after you’re used to them raw. Avoid the “yuck” reflex! Analyse your diet and pick out some things you’d like to cut back on or slowly eliminate, and some to gradually introduce. Just a couple things at a time. Start with the easiest, least-yucky stuff. You’ve got years to complete the task. No need to give up cheese, but gradually teach yourself to eat less of it. If you currently put two ounces on/in something, cut it back to 1.75, then in a month go to 1.5, and so on as long as you’re still enjoying your food. You’ll be amazed at how far you can go. Try to switch over to grass-fed dairy at some point. More methane, but carbon neutral and good for you instead of unhealthy.

    Or, design a diet and leap in knowing that over the next 90 days you’ll adjust.

    Going whole-hog vegan is grand, but a good omnivore diet (vegetable-based with no grain-fed meat or dairy) is probably healthier, has less risk of nutrient deficiencies, and is nearly as or even more planet-friendly too. (For example, vegans don’t get many calories from the sea or range land, which increases pressure elsewhere.) As little as one ounce of non-industrial full-fat animal products a day can really help balance out your nutrients.

    Good luck!

  7. MalcolmT:

    Re legal intimidation of scientists: It isn’t just climate scientists – here’s an example in the medical field http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-07-14/diet-pill-company-threatens-to-sue-medical-expert/4130548

  8. Susan Anderson:

    It might be useful to remember that rice and beans, which is the commonest diet worldwide, is also one of the healthiest, providing balanced (“complete”) protein.

    That said, the purists who insist on vegan are doing the world a disservice by treating regular vegetarians and those who moderate their meat intake as sinners. People who struggle with or have little desire to change should be encouraged rather than attacked. Even meat eaters vary widely, from those who have huge portions of red meat and/or lots of junk food to those who are quite moderate and often have white meat and fish.

    On the whole, vegan is more work and requires more knowledge, as the nutrients in dairy are eliminated. And not having honey is just silly.

    Instead of thinking about what you can’t have, try what is included.

    It’s kind of like the silly arguments over energy solutions, where camps in favor of various alternatives are busy shooting at each other rather than at the greedsters in charge of the donnybrook.

  9. Susan Anderson:

    David Benson,

    Next time I come across a good source for tar sands I’ll post it; I think the link I provided has good information. It is my understanding that tar sands have the consistency of asphalt clinkers and the process of making it pipe-ready is not pretty. The solvents also threaten the pipelines, and building high-tech pipelines going thousands of miles without proper investigation is criminal in my book.

    I should say I am against tar sands: they seem to pose so many risks and do so much harm at all stages of their production and use as to be one of the modern horrors of feeding our fossil-fuel addiction instead of promoting an all hands on deck approach to clean energy and local transmission systems.

    But it is clear that tar sands are a square peg being forced into the round hole of existing pipeline technology, and that it is not working. Absent proper investigation and avoidance, since we are stuck with transport, putting in trains would have so many ancillary benefits it seems worth a look. If there were a disaster (and the recent heat seems to be degrading all our roads and other infrastructure) at least the product would not be artificially liquefied and therefore more easily removed.

  10. Hank Roberts:

    The science behind why some people are constrained to picky eating and how picky eaters can learn to like new foods:
    Suffering Succotash, by Stephanie Lucianovic
    reviewed June 29, 2012 at Scientific American.com)

  11. SecularAnimist:

    Susan Anderson wrote: “the purists who insist on vegan are doing the world a disservice by treating regular vegetarians and those who moderate their meat intake as sinners”

    I beg the moderators’ indulgence for a longish unforced variation on this matter of vegan diets.

    Susan, I’m not sure who you are referring to as “purists”. But perhaps I am one.

    I have eaten a vegan diet for 24 years, and a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet for 14 years before that. This was first, foremost, and always a personal choice to eat in such a way as to realize my values. And it was an evolutionary process. While I originally became a vegetarian literally overnight following an ethical epiphany about needlessly killing sentient beings, I later “backslid” and occasionally ate some meat for a couple of years (for no good reason), before deciding to go vegan.

    I don’t believe in such a thing as “sin”, and my personal dietary advice to everyone is to do what I have always done: eat whatever you like, whatever you think best, in accord with your values.

    However, I do recognize that different diets have different consequences for one’s health, and for one’s ecological impact (including one’s carbon footprint), and for one’s impact on the well-being of non-human animals. So, I will happily “insist” — based on facts — that a vegan diet has very positive consequences in all three of those domains.

    And I will also “insist” — based on facts — that many of the notions that people mention as obstacles to, or drawbacks of, a vegan diet are myths. For example, it is not at all difficult to get all the nutrients needed for optimal health from a vegan diet (including the most often mentioned ones: protein, calcium and B12). It is not expensive. It is not difficult to figure out, or to maintain. It requires no special nutritional expertise. And all of the staple foods that comprise a healthy, balanced vegan diet are readily available to most Americans — and in most cases are much more readily available, and less expensive, than “sustainably raised” meat.

    And last but not least, a vegan diet can be as delicious, rich and satisfying as you want it to be, and an opportunity to explore a much wider variety of wonderful foods than are found in the “typical” American diet.

    Susan Anderson wrote: “vegan is more work and requires more knowledge, as the nutrients in dairy are eliminated”

    Eliminating dairy is a feature, not a bug. There are no nutrients in dairy products that are not readily available in plant foods (green leafy vegetables like kale have plenty of calcium that is better assimilated than calcium in dairy), and dairy does contain substances that are very problematical for human health.

    Indeed, strictly in terms of health, if someone was considering giving up either meat or dairy, but not both, then I would say give up the dairy products first. Pretty much everyone I know who has given up dairy products has experienced significant, and sometimes dramatic, improvements in their health — including in some cases the complete elimination of long-term, intractable health problems.

  12. Steve Fish:

    Re- Comment by SecularAnimist — 14 Jul 2012 @ 12:39 PM:

    The RC site has provided many good examples of bad science and the ways in which good science can be misinterpreted and cherry picked. Good studies that compare vegetarians and vegans to omnivores with a comparable background and lifestyle, find little difference in health outcomes. Mind your mom, everybody should just eat more veggies. We should not be selling vegetarianism as a cure for global warming, instead we should be promoting sustainable agricultural practices if we want to make a substantial change. Start with not buying refrigerated stuff from a different continent. Tell the store manager what you think. Steve

  13. Patrick 027:

    Re 256 Jim Larsen – what you say about the CH4 – feed link sounds plausable. Wish I knew more.

    Also agree with the seafood/rangeland issue for veganism (what about crop residues?). I agree that it is possible to learn to like a different diet and reduce cheese intake in particular (I’ve already done this).

    (It also helps to use more intensely-flavored cheese; however, sometimes the flavor isn’t just more intense but different, and in some contexts either I prefer the mild flavor or just stay away from sharp/aged. Not a fan of blue cheese – tastes like (won’t say), IMO.

    Anyway, there’s a bakery that produces a cornbread that isn’t a desert-type cornbread; based on the texture it seems to not be from a batter but rather from a dough. When combined (toasted or not) with tomato sauce or a tomato-meat sauce (a typical pizza-pasta type or a sloppy-joe type), the layer where the bread has gotten soft and gooey develops a somewhat cheesy-like flavor and texture. Actually, regular bread does this a little too sometimes, but I think maybe not as much (the first time I tried this cornbread I thought it was a cheesebread, but it’s not, so far as I know).

    In the context of rice, finely-sliced/minced red onion seems to be able to play the role of cheese to some extent. You can also just put some olive oil on pasta.

    Almonds are a good Ca source; also protein. I recommend raw almonds – (caution: anecdotal account) they are (usually, or if you get the good kind) easier to chew and they actually have flavor – if you’re lucky you occasionaly get one that tastes like almond extract (why can’t all almonds have almond flavoring?); however, almond butter seems to be better when made from roasted almonds – it’s not so much that the taste isn’t right with raw almonds as they can’t seem to make a creamy raw almond butter that is actually creamy. But sometimes I’m afraid that if I eat roasted almonds, I’ll develop an allergy (or is that just peanuts?)

    Re 261 SecularAnimist – I’ll remember to try kale.)

    I have been enjoying grass-fed milk for several years now (skim – funny point about getting used to foods: I took to skim right away; I now dislike anything fattier (unless it’s chocolate milk, or maybe egg nog) – last time I had 1 % milk in my cereal, I mixed it with water!; it’s funny though, because I still put butter on cinammon toast – of course, without removing fat from milk, we wouldn’t have butter or perhaps the room for it in our diets). I was a bit of a picky eater as a kid, but now I do enjoy trying new things sometimes (granted, that’s not the same as giving things up – and in some cases I don’t stop missing/yearning for a great food item after 90 days, not even years (although those wouldn’t necessarily be the foods that I would have everyday, so it doesn’t really counter your point); sometimes I get into a rut and I really would like to have something different. I liked eating brown rice the first time I had it, although I’ve mostly given it up since for reasons I won’t share. But although garbonzo beans taste like plastic to me, I have occasionaly enjoyed hummus. And nut butters with no hydrogenated oils are great!)

    Veggies: I hope I didn’t give the impression that I don’t eat them – I have salads, and I really enjoy (all these are cooked) sweet peas, sweet corn, carrots, and I like green beans a little too; there’s also sweet potatos… but this comment is far too long already.

    I’m not sure exactly what you mean about yucky; for me, some are ‘yucky’ raw (Spinach and other such leafy greens; hint: earthy flavor = tastes like rubber), especially if eaten in isolation (dressing helps, although in some cases, combining with bread or wrapping around a carrot may be more effective), while some are yucky if overcooked (brocolli – but I don’t like brocolli raw either; PS what substance is responsible for the ‘heat’ in raw brocolli and raw pea pods?); like with fruits – some are better cold (apples and juicy fruits) and some are better at room temp (bananas). It also makes a difference if their freshly picked, frozen (great for blueberries; strawberries taste good but texture … depends on how you use them – fresh picked are the best), or canned (bad for peas, IMO). Freshly picked: don’t judge by just one plant (watch variety) one year (growing conditions: frost damage, etc.) (my first fresh-picked blueberries were not only not exactly sweet, they were skunky! Not sure if it was caused by frost or variety, but I’ve had much better ones since; I didn’t control for variety and growing conditions seperately so I can’t tell what caused the skunky flavor.)

    (Michelle Obama recently on either The Daily Show or The Colbert Report mentioned how people may (have) learn(ed) to dislike vegetables because of overcooking, etc. And there’s also an access issue – some people don’t have a good grocery store within sufficient distance. And money – I think frozen peas are more expensive than canned peas.)

    A problem with having a lot of these foods, though, along with whole grains, is that they have fiber. There’s such a thing as too much (yes, there’s “Beano”, but … why if you don’t need to?). But I need to eat something. So I have some white bread and pasta too – and dairy and eggs, fish and meat.

    But for a combination of reasons (personal preference, values, …) I don’t go all-out on meat, and while perhaps I could learn to like that, I don’t see why I should.

    If corn and wheat are so costly (in a total sense) and cattle need so much of them (if that’s what they’re given), grass-fed makes sense, yet they still need so much of that; this still takes up land and apparently produces CH4 – more than would otherwise if the land was left to nature? (I suspect that’s true because I tend to think the scientists who attributed anthropogenic CH4 emissions to livestock know what they’re doing), but at least I can reduce my overall land use by reducing meat; I don’t need to give up my direct consumption of grains to reduce the land grains are planted on. The right combination of livestock, vegetation, and regional climate may be quite ecologically friendly, but there’s still only so much land, etc.

    (And there’s only so much sea – Tilapia vs Salmon – if farm-raising Salmon is worse because it merely takes salmon food out of the sea and concentrates the byproducts of that food chain (creates pollution), why can’t they instead farm the salmon food – or actually, the food of the salmon food, to raise the salmon food, to raise the salmon… and recycle the waste… but anyway…)

    – I pledge to keep any farther food comments to a few lines or less.

  14. Patrick 027:

    Re my 253 – Actually, if a C emission is as CH4 in place of CO2 at the same time, then there is a temporary reduction in CO2 and thus negative ‘OAP’.

    I was watching the “Volcanoes” episode of “How the Universe Works” – I think it was interesting that they used the greenhouse effect to explain how Triton’s geysers are powered (the nitrogen ice is transparent to solar radiation but blocks (some of?) the longwave radiation, so solar heating can thaw the nitrogen at some depth. (remember – optical properties can change with phase changes (I don’t know about N2 in particular), but also, at these temperatures, OLR is largely not in the same part of the spectrum as Earth’s OLR).

  15. Patrick 027:

    A problem with having a lot of these foods… never mind that paragraph; I’m rethinking it.

  16. Jim Larsen:

    261 SecularA said, “Indeed, strictly in terms of health, if someone was considering giving up either meat or dairy, but not both, then I would say give up the dairy products first.”

    For sure. I agree with lots in your post, including the dismal availability of non-industrial animal products except fish, and I admire your non-judgemental stance.

    However, I disagree with the “easy to do veganism right” bit. (Heck, you probably think it’s “easy to do calculus right”!) New vegans often get deficiencies, or deficiencies show up later as the vegan falls into the habit of cooking just a few favorite dishes. And then there’s the smaller stuff. Here’s a list of oils. Note that fish oils contain EFAs which are missing in the plant oils. There’s stuff where your options are fish, organ meat, or do without. The body has patches and workarounds, but adding a daily ounce of wild fatty low-on-the-food-chain fish will almost certainly improve any vegan diet while also providing a buffer for errors.


    Also, the sterotypical grass-fed cow is protected and provided for in a cushy happy-cow life. Happy cows make better meat and grass-fed is less consistently good so grass-fed farmers can get obsessive about cow-happiness. But all good things must end, and the cow experiences fear on the way to the slaughterhouse and then is turned off via massive head trauma, without much pain, if any. Sounds like a pretty good deal for cows when compared to predators and drought and winter and whatnot in the natural world. The alternative is to drive cattle functionally extinct, with specimens kept alive for the novelty. Somehow, I think cows might vote for remaining on the menu.

  17. Patrick 027:

    Re me 263, 256 Jim Larsen, 260 Hank Roberts
    … example of manipulating food texture: Sometimes sweet potatoes are undesirably fibrous to me (in terms of eating experience); so I just thinly slice them against the grain to destroy the long fiber texture.
    (As an example to getting around dislikes when learning to like new foods)

    (4 lines)

  18. Patrick 027:

    Jim Larsen: Heck, you probably think it’s “easy to do calculus right”!)

    It can be, until you get to the “hyperbalance equations” ( http://www.adv-geosci.net/15/47/2008/adgeo-15-47-2008.pdf ) Yikes! (But I’m guessing theoretical particle physicists and string theorists still have it harder?).
    (see my 187 ‘above’)

    The alternative is to drive cattle functionally extinct, with specimens kept alive for the novelty. Somehow, I think cows might vote for remaining on the menu.

    Extinction of a species and death of an individual are different things, but both different from nonexistence of a potential individual. The cows that never existed can’t care. For humans, who have both a vivid awareness of their own mortality (a vivid awareness of awareness, even), multi-generational social bonds, and a general awareness of past and future extending toward infinity, it’s very understandable that they (they? apparently I’m not thinking of myself as one right now. Hmmm…) would not want to go extinct; in fact they don’t want they’re way of life to go extinct (but I hope they’ll accept changes that help things stay the same (the more they change, the more they can stay the same!)).

    Well a cow probably feels some connection to her young so a lack of new cattle might be noticed by cows, but a slow-enough drawdown in population could be achieved without them caring much about it, I’d think (?). Actually we humans can willingly doing that (look at Italy) – then again, cows don’t watch TV all that much.

  19. David B. Benson:

    Susan Anderson @259 — I recommend complaining to the State Department regarding the hazards you perceive.

  20. Brian Dodge:

    “David Beever of Keenan said dairy producers in the EU27 were currently achieving a FCE of 1.16kg milk produced for every kg of feed, but boosting it to 1.5kg would see an additional 43 million tonnes of milk being produced in Europe from the same number of cows. Including the US, production would rise by 60m tonnes, 25 per cent of the FAO target for 2030.

    Besides increasing production from the same number of cows, feeding a mixed ration based on precise inputs would also reduce feed costs and methane production, said Prof Beever.

    He believed tackling environmental issues had to be done, before ‘the environmentalists shut us down’.” http://www.farmersguardian.com/home/livestock/livestock-news/better-fce-could-boost-milk-output/36903.article

    typical Feed Conversion Efficiency for livestock – http://www.fao.org/wairdocs/lead/x6123e/x6123e0b.htm, http://www.fao.org/ag/aga/agap/frg/conf96.htm/ocampo.htm (FCE is ratio of kg feed dry weight to kg product with included moisture, so is deceptive if you are considering calories – but most useful for economic calculations, since farmers buy dry feed(or invest in hectares of pasture that produces X dry forage/ha) and sell by wet weight)
    tilapia 1.6-1.8 [1] 0.55-0.62 GMO for ectopically expressed growth hormone[2]
    chicken (meat) 3-4.5
    chicken (eggs) 3-5
    goats 2.5-4.1 [3] 4.8-17.6 [4]
    pork 5.1-6.3
    sheep ~13 [3] on pasture + Erythrina poeppigiana forage (leguminous tree) + supplement block containing 10% urea, 10% rice polishings, 40% molasses, 15% quick lime, 10% rice husks, 5% mineral salt and 10% crude palm oil 3.5:1.4:1 ratio pasture:forage:supplement
    cattle 20-25 grass fed; 15-18 grass + legume

    “Animals are, moreover, poor converters of energy into foods for human consumption; if cereal grain is fed to livestock it requires on average 7 kcal input for every kcal generated – ranging from 16 for beef production to 3 kcal for broiler chickens.” http://www.fao.org/docrep/T0562E/T0562E01.htm But 16 kcal worth of grass, bagasse, beet pulp, sugar cane rinds, cotton seed hulls, and poultry manure – not exactly palatable, and probably not utilizable for humans – can be made into 1 kcal of nutritious, tasty, and profitable beef. My beef isn’t with beef, but with the people in industrialized nations who consume 35kg/capita/yr of grain/soybean fed beef flown in from Kobe.

    Ruminants fed very low quality forage have worse FCE than those fed higher calorie/protein rations, which achieve marketable weight faster; economics means it is more profitable to confine large numbers of cattle (or pigs or chickens) in a small (comparatively cheap) space, truck in expensive corn and soybeans (instead of hay – the same trucking cost/load gets amortized over less feed and less time with corn/soy). The close confinement requires the use of antibiotics, which also increases growth rate; the effluent waste from these operations is usually equivalent to a small city, but treatment is much less regulated than municipalities. The science says that if affluent societies ate less meat, particularly grain fed meat that uses grains that humans could eat. substituted goat for beef in many cases, and were generally wiser in the food choices we made, fewer people in the world would be undernourished or starving. The “invisible hand of the market” e.g. profit, says otherwise.

    [1]. ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e.pdf the comparative feed efficiency advantage of tilapia may partly explain the explosive growth in it’s production.
    [2]. http://www.cabdirect.org/abstracts/20013060710.html (based on the 290% increase in FCE claimed here by Martinez et al; how can the FCE be less than one? – it’s the additional moisture content of the tilapia versus the feed)
    [3]. http://www.fao.org/wairdocs/ilri/x5473b/x5473b1t.htm
    [4]. http://www.fao.org/wairdocs/ilri/x5473b/x5473b1v.htm

  21. Patrick 027:

    Re 270 Brian Dodge – very useful info and links – thanks!; it shouldn’t be too hard to find Calories for the food items, and for dry weight my understanding is 4 kcal/g carbohydrates and protein, 9 kcal/g fat.

  22. wili:

    I see a lot of black-and-white, all-or-nothing type of thinking here. As if encouraging people to eat less meat and dairy is suddenly going to drive cattle extinct…lol. Ridiculous on the face of it.

    But even more ridiculous is the presupposition that cattle, a human-created species (perhaps only dogs are more domesticated among mammals), is enormously more precious than the many species they have already driven to extinction and will continue to do so, even if there were any remote chance that more than a tiny fraction of the world population would ever become even ‘kinda’ vegetarian.

    Again, as Pollan says, most people should mostly eat plants. As others have pointed out, this is most of the diet of most people on earth and ever has been. Meat (and dairy), if eaten at all, are best as flavoring agents (a bit of ham in split pea soup) and medicine (as they were used in many otherwise largely vegetarian monasteries).

    The large amounts of grain and beans dedicated to feeding or ‘finishing’ most industrial cattle, poultry (and even farmed fish) make these livestock unsustainable food sources (especially at anything close to the American rate of consumption) for most of humanity. The more this industrial-meat-and-dairy-centered diet spreads to the rest of the world, the less likely we are all to survive, long term (or even feed anything close to all of us in the relatively short term–check out drought maps in the US and India lately!!).

    My Goddess! If we can’t agree on something like this here, where most are quite fully aware of the enormous threats facing us, what glimmering hope is there of convincing anyone else to moderately alter their lifestyles to give future generations whatever vanishing chance at a livable planet they might have??

    (All of this, of course, leaves aside the enormous amounts of water and other resources needed to sustain industrial (and most other) livestock.

  23. Susan Anderson:

    Secular Animist – just a little background before I desist. Your points are well presented and worthy of consideration, but when simple practical vegetarian modifications take a back seat to vegan insistence in a largely meat-focused culture, we will get nowhere. I was a vegetarian for 10 years, and during that time the only people who died from diet were purist macrobiotics and vegans who failed to provide essential balance for themselves. My comment was a heartfelt reaction to another vegan who become quite hostile when I suggested that compromise was possible. While the 60s era produced a lot of dedicated purists, the time since has forced us all to make accommodations with the world in which we find ourselves. These battles are personal, and getting people to realize that it is not healthy to eat meaty fatty salty addictive junk foods and focus excessively on red meat would be a good start. Hating dairy will not make it go away, and in my particular case I’m not close to finding alternatives. Perhaps you are in fact my previous interlocutor, in which case my apologies for going the same route twice; if you were raised in India, it is not surprising that you find our obsession with toxic food puzzling!

    I’m afraid diet, like nuclear energy, is one of those areas where passions get off the rails.

    David Benson, I have done so, with the effect that you might imagine. Meanwhile, it appears you have dismissed my point about tar sands, and from what you wrote I cannot believe you’ve honestly researched it. I normally trust you better than I trust myself, but this time not so much.

  24. dbostrom:

    Weird homeostasis? Mt McKinley, other mountains becoming more unstable, discouraging climbers from undertaking multi-thousand mile “approaches” via jet:

    Sharper seasonal variations of ice and snow and temperature are being repeated all across the world from the Himalayas to the Andes, which scientists say are driven by a higher level of energy in the atmosphere from global warming. As a result, climbers have to think twice about what they might expect one year to the next, or even one day to the next, in places they might have climbed for decades.

    For Climbers, Risks Now Shift With Every Step

  25. SecularAnimist:

    wili wrote: “cattle, a human-created species (perhaps only dogs are more domesticated among mammals)”

    Of course the most domesticated of all mammals is homo sapiens.

    Jim Larsen wrote: “New vegans often get deficiencies”

    I appreciate the moderators allowing my longish post on vegan diets, and recognizing that this is a climate science site and not a nutrition site, I will resist the temptation to further test their tolerance for off-topic posts with a point-by-point rebuttal to some of the responses.

    But I would challenge Jim Larsen to point to some actual evidence that “new vegans often get deficiencies”. Where are the studies that show that to be true? I have not found any such studies.

    And in terms of “anecdotal evidence”, by virtue of being involved in the “animal rights” movement, I have known many, many vegans — both “new” vegans and long-term vegans — and I have certainly not found that to be the case in my experience.

    There seems to be an assumption that someone eating the typical American diet, heavy in meat and dairy, is automatically getting a well-balanced diet and all the nutrients needed for optimal health, without having to put much thought into it — and by switching to a vegan diet, they automatically risk deficiencies and other nutritional health problems which are challenging and difficult to avoid.

    In my experience, if anything, the opposite is true. The typical American diet is fraught with nutritional problems, many of which are simply eliminated by adopting a vegan diet. Moreover, for many “new vegans”, the decision to change their diet may be the first time in their lives that they have given much thought to nutrition, and the first time they have really asked the question “what should I eat?” As a result, most of the vegans I know are much better educated about nutrition than the average person.

    Jim Larsen wrote: “Note that fish oils contain EFAs which are missing in the plant oils.”

    I suggest you study this issue more closely. All the essential fatty acids needed for human nutrition can be obtained from plant sources. It’s interesting to note that the list you linked to does not include hemp seed oil, which is one of the best plant sources of EFAs.

    As a matter of psychology, it has always seemed strange to me that merely discussing the benefits of a vegan diet triggers a response from many people that I am trying to “coerce” or “force” them to do something.

  26. SecularAnimist:

    Jim Larsen wrote: “Note that fish oils contain EFAs which are missing in the plant oils.”

    A short follow-up on this point. You might want to read this article from the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association:

    Essential Fatty Acids in Vegetarian Nutrition
    By Brenda Davis, RD

    FWIW, after eating a vegan diet for 20-plus years, I have what my primary care physician described as “the best blood lipid profile she has ever seen”.

  27. dbostrom:

    Great discussion on diet; hats off to thoughtful, considerate ruminations (sorry!). And after all, it -is- related to climate, particularly when it comes to stuffing animals with corn made in part of nitrogen fixed thanks to a messy hydrocarbon inferno.

    How about steady pressure in the right direction? Lean against an unmoored ship and it’ll imperceptibly begin moving, eventually can be pushed around despite seeming impossibility. Eat a little less meat, whatever works for you now and then remember to continue pushing in that direction?

  28. wili:

    Earlier, iirc, there was some discussion here on forest feedback. CP just had something on this that some may find interesting:


    “Forest Feedback: Rising CO2 In Atmosphere Also Speeds Carbon Loss From Forest Soils, Research Finds”

    Here’s the direct link to the abstract of the study discussed:


    “Roots and fungi accelerate carbon and nitrogen cycling in forests exposed to elevated CO2”

  29. flxible:

    What this dietary discussion is missing wrt climate is the fact that the modern western diet has become totally dependent on out-of-season and/or ‘exotic’ foods imported vast distances. We’re accustomed to finding our favorite things in the stores every day of the year, when what’s really needed is a seasonal variation that’s locally based.

  30. Dan Lufkin:

    Re the domestication of amimals: There’s a thoughtful book on that subject: The Covenant of the Wild: Why Animals Chose Domestication by Stephen Budiansky. He points out that domestication is great reproductive success (from the evolutionary point of view) and is a net advantage for a species. No question that cats have it better than cows, but the life of your average dairy cow is likely better and not much shorter than that of a wild cow. I dunno how this affects the philosophy of vegetarianism and I don’t wanna end up in the bore-hole, so I’ll leave it to readers.

  31. Steve Fish:

    Re- Comment by flxible — 15 Jul 2012 @ 2:23 PM:

    Fresh, local, in season foods are great! I always look forward to the first peas and green beans and especially the first ripe off the vine tomato. Right now local corn is available and the apricots are about done, but local peaches are coming on and we will have just a few wild pacific salmon meals with our very short season. Putting these together in a meal is a major treat. Crucifers, digging potatoes and carrots, and grinding horseradish are coming up soon. I like it!

    The point is, designed to be shipped, unripe, no flavor big ag food may be convenient, but it is very fossil carbon expensive and really not very tasty. When arguing about minimizing fossil carbon in agriculture, the healthy quality and flavor argument for local growers is pretty good. We have to find a way to do this on a larger scale while eliminating or paying for the “externalities.”


  32. David B. Benson:

    Susan Anderson @273 — All I pointed out was that the planners are limited to the more economic methods within the current regulatory framework. If transporting the tar sands semi-liquid via pipeline were made illegal than only rail transport would be possible [and potentially so expensive that tar sands operations would cease].

  33. Patrick 027:

    Re 275 SecularAnimist “Of course the most domesticated of all mammals is homo sapiens.” – yes, and we were domesticated by grains! (see Richard Manning, “Against the Grain”). Re you’re 276, interesting info about fatty acids – though I’ve only skimmed it a bit; not sure about the correlation between omega number and saturation; you can’t cook with flax seed oil – can you cook with the whole seeds (does the oil turn to trans-fat that way?)

    PS I wanted to also say that the earlier discussion about Canada reminded me of the pilot episode of “Due South” – nothing to do with AGW but I think there was an environmental issue.

  34. dbostrom:

    Re Steve and flxible, local food. We’re lead thereby to yet another problem with our habits; we’ve leveraged combustion to live in places where obtaining fresh local foodstuffs along the lines of vegetables and fruit during large portions of the year is impossible just now. Amazing things are done with greenhouses etc. but even so it’s a dubious proposition to feed the population of (for example) New York City with local food during winter.

    My particular smallest-possible governmental unit (family) is conscientious of the local versus teleported food issue. Where we live we’re fairly fortunate in terms of the spectrum and overlap of agriculture but all the same in the depths of winter our choices become limited and we’re boxed in between pragmatism and perfectionism.

    We’re in a bit of a pickle once we we begin peeling back layers of this onion.

  35. wili:



  36. Patrick 027:

    locavorism helps (and provides some security against the chaos of a global pandemic such as depicted in “Earth 2100”), but so would putting clean energy into transportation (and everything else).

  37. Hank Roberts:

    From AGU EOS 4 October 2011 (yes, I’m behind on my reading)

    Loss of coral reefs and increasing ocean pH leads eventually to cooling

    “Focusing on the Middle Late Jurassic Transition (MLJT), a million-year-long bout of cool temperatures that took place roughly 160 million years ago, Donnadieu et al. found that changes in the growth rate and spatial extent of carbonate platforms may explain the temporary climate shift…. the drop in carbonate platform growth would have increased the oceanic concentration of carbonate ions, shifting the equilibrium for carbonate chemistry and increasing the ocean’s ability to act as a sink for carbon dioxide. The changes in carbonate platform activity decreased atmospheric carbon from 700 to between 200 and 350 parts per million by volume, with a corresponding 9.3°–4.5°C drop in atmospheric temperature. (Paleoceanography, doi:10.1029/2010PA002100, 2011) —CS

  38. SecularAnimist:

    Well, now that we’ve had the discussion about reducing meat consumption to mitigate global warming, it appears that global warming may wind up reducing meat consumption …

    Heat Leaves Ranchers a Stark Option: Sell
    By Jack Healy
    The New York Times
    July 15, 2012

    As a relentless drought bakes prairie soil to dust and dries up streams across the country, ranchers struggling to feed their cattle are unloading them by the thousands, a wrenching decision likely to ripple from the Plains to supermarket shelves over the next year.

    Ranchers say they are reducing their herds and selling their cattle months ahead of schedule to avoid the mounting losses of a drought that now stretches across a record-breaking 1,016 American counties.

    […] the sales of cows and calves that might have otherwise produced more cows and more calves may play a role in reducing beef production, potentially driving prices higher, experts say. But right now, ranchers selling early are getting less money per head because of tremors in the markets for corn and other cattle feed.

    In its latest forecasts, the Agriculture Department expects overall American beef production to fall by about one billion pounds, to 25.1 billion pounds in 2012 from 26.2 billion a year earlier, and forecasts yet another fall in 2013.

    […] Experts and ranchers say the hammering heat and near-total absence of rainfall play havoc on nearly every corner of their business. Parched corn glutted with nitrogen from the soil becomes toxic to cows. Slimes of algae bloom on irrigation ponds. Wells run dry, and ranchers spend their days hauling water to accommodate a cow’s 35-gallon daily thirst. Fewer cows get pregnant, and mothers’ milk can run dry.

  39. Steve Fish:

    Re- Comment by dbostrom — 15 Jul 2012 @ 6:08 PM:

    I agree with your pickled onion metaphor. I think that food is just too inexpensive because prices don’t reflect actual external costs (e.g. environmental). Currently, more local and sustainably produced foods are more expensive, although of much higher quality in my experience. If food prices reflected all costs the problem would sort itself out, at least in part.

    I think that what one considers to be local when living in a large city must necessarily be a much greater distance than in less populated areas, but most foods should be available from within the US, or nearby sub regions of the US. I don’t know how much this is true of other parts of the world. Increasing fossil fuel transportation and production costs would make opportunities for new sustainable and regional farming startups.

    I just enjoy the yearly rotation of the weather and food seasons and pretty much ignore stuff that is shipped in out of season. I am not fanatical about this and am willing to spend more to buy whatever I need for special occasions, but in California the deprivation is not great. When we lived much more to the north and east we got into ethnic cooking during the winter food doldrums.


  40. SecularAnimist:

    The Union Of Concerned Scientists has a new (June 2012) report on the ecological impacts of meat production, with a focus on beef and deforestation:

    Grade A Choice?
    Solutions for Deforestation-Free Meat
    PDF Download

    “… the report found that beef production uses about 60 percent of the world’s agricultural land but produces less than 5 percent of the protein and less than 2 percent of the calories that feed the global population.”

  41. Unsettled Scientist:

    I found this through a trusted secondary source.

    State of the Climate 2011 supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

    The thing that caught my eye is that there is discussion of “attribution science” as one writer put it. From BAMS July 2012, “In the past it was often stated that it simply was not possible to make an attribution statement about an individual weather or climate event. However, scientific thinking on this issue has moved on and now it is widely accepted that attribution statements about individual weather or climate events are possible, provided proper account is taken of the probabilistic nature of attribution.”

    As always, the devil is in the details. “For example, whereas Dole et al. (2011) reported that the 2010 Russian heatwave was largely natural in origin, Rahmstorf and Coumou (2011) concluded it was largely anthropogenic. In fact, the different conclusions largely reflect the different questions being asked, the focus on the magnitude of the heatwave by Dole et al. (2011) and on its probability by Rahmstorf and Coumou (2011).”

    There is a lot more than just that available at the link, and I’ve only just begun reading the attribution PDF. But, looks like some interesting reading ahead. Attribution science likely has some cross-over potential, into areas such as medicine perhaps, where there are many factors involved and probabilities must be teased out to find the real drivers of the current condition.

  42. Jon:

    “Going whole-hog vegan is grand, but a good omnivore diet … is nearly as or even more planet-friendly too.(For example, vegans don’t get many calories from the sea or range land, which increases pressure elsewhere.)”

    Call me crazy but, given the state of the world’s fisheries, I’d say not getting many calories from the sea is a feature of veganism rather than a bug. It’s not as though there’s any shortage of people eager to eat the seafood I don’t want. Rather too eager, hence the aforementioned parlous state of the fisheries despite the fact that everyone knows we’re overfishing.

    That said, there’s plenty of room for non-vegans to make their diets more sustainable without becoming vegans. Veganism may or may not be perfect from a nutritional standpoint but I see no need to make it the enemy of other dietary changes that would benefit the environment compared to dietary business as usual.

  43. dbostrom:

    SecularAnimist: Well, now that we’ve had the discussion about reducing meat consumption to mitigate global warming, it appears that global warming may wind up reducing meat consumption …

    More homeostasis? Industrialized Gaia?

  44. Steve Fish:

    Re- Comment by SecularAnimist — 16 Jul 2012 @ 1:26 PM:

    The Union of Concerned Scientists piece is very good. It outlines all of the really bad offenses to the commons that result from beef production. The lead in 60% agriculture land verses 5% protein statistic is a bit misleading. Cows have evolved to graze and process cellulose from rain irrigated grassland. If they are restricted to this type of land, that is also not suitable for growing grain, they are the most efficient vehicle for producing good food and they should be used to graze grain fields after the grain has been collected (automatic fertilizing machines). Clearing forest land for any agricultural purpose and raising crops, especially corn in the US, specifically for feeding cattle is just plain stupid because of how destructive and polluting it is.

    On a different note regarding corn, which depletes soil quality and requires intensive fossil carbon to produce, is everywhere. It can be found in almost all prepared foods in the market and is force fed to chickens and pigs as well as cows. I have been heating my home for most of my life with wood that I grew and gathered myself. Sometime ago pellet stoves became popular because the pellets could be contained in a tank and fed to the stove automatically by a thermostat. This is a stupid idea, but how about this one- The pellet stove companies figured out that US government subsidized corn is so inexpensive that they now sell these heaters specifically designed to burn corn. Hard dried corn kernels are perfect for this because of how they flow. Burning food! Here is a Google search for “corn stoves.”
    https://www.google.com/search?q=is+the+us+a+net+food+exporter&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a – hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US%3Aofficial&sclient=psy-ab&q=corn+stoves&oq=corn+stoves&gs_l=serp.3…58772.60229.1.60850.…0.0…1c.d4j15HQ0Z74&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=a59320c9f40a39ec&biw=928&bih=490


  45. Steve Fish:

    I really messed up the link to corn burning stoves in my post #294. Just Google “corn stove.” Steve

  46. Jim Larsen:

    275 SecularA engaged with, “But I would challenge Jim Larsen to point to some actual evidence that “new vegans often get deficiencies”. Where are the studies that show that to be true? I have not found any such studies.”


    “It is well known that strict vegetarians (vegans) are at high risk for vitamin B12 deficiency, and multiple case reports describe the clinical and biochemical symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency in this group. Most of these cases are infants who were born to, and breastfed by, vegan mothers [8]. There are a few studies of larger groups of vegans. For example, of 110 adults and 42 children from a macrobiotic community in the United States, 51% of adults had low plasma cobalamin and 30% of adults and 55% of the children had elevated urinary methylmalonic acid (MMA) [9]. In healthy vegan adults in California (n = 25, age 20 to 60 years), 40% had evidence of vitamin B12 depletion”


  47. Jim Larsen:

    294 Steve F said, “. Hard dried corn kernels are perfect for this because of how they flow. Burning food!”

    Sorta, though that corn is inedible. And maybe this is a better solution than ethanol? Send corn to New England and shut down/convert all those oil furnaces?

  48. wili:

    More on effects of forest fires:

    “Gas from pollutants, forest fires at potentially toxic levels”


  49. wili:

    “Cows have evolved to graze and process cellulose from rain irrigated grassland” But the rain doesn’t always fall (see SA’s article above@ #288), and the cattle themselves need enormous amounts of water every day–35 gallons a day according to the article above.

    But of course in the real world, nearly all cattle get a huge portion of their bulk from grains and beans that could be much more efficiently eaten directly by the world’s many very hungry people.

  50. flxible:

    wili – While I agree with you generally when it comes to industrial agriculture, here “in the real world” the dairy farmers grow corn that’s specifically been bred to produce a good bulk of plant material that gets silaged, they don’t really care if the ears ripen – and if they do, they’re not very palatable as human food, although I eat it at times. The fields might be better used for truck crops, but there’s a lot of that around here as well. Which is to say, globally, industrial farming techniques aren’t universal, and farm animals aren’t “evil” per se.